Back To Index Birds of a Feather
by Tom Thomson
"The mind of the sage in repose becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation," an Oriental philosopher wrote. "In repose," he suggests, "the inner mind opens up so that it encompasses all things, no matter how small or how large. Thus we can contemplate nature, our own place in nature, and our relationships with our fellow human beings."
In practicing contemplation, our own minds become creative, because in subtle and unexplainable ways, we achieve harmony with the universe. We become one with everything else.
It is the province, especially, of the artist, the architect, the writer, the dramatist, the musician, the scientist, the naturalist. But it can be within anyone's capacity if they open up their eyes, and their ears, and their minds. It is a gift that one has to cultivate.
These precious things-observation, contemplation, creativity, harmony-are some of the wonderful legacies of birding. The birder becomes intensely aware of the natural world he shares with the objects of his admiration. One cannot become a birder without becoming an environmentalist.
Thus it is that magically, contemplation becomes the golden feather from a bird's wing, the replenishing earth around our own roots, the improbable delicacy of a wildflower, the holding of hands with a loved one, the intricate melody of a bird song, the sheer wonder of rain falling from a thunderhead higher than the Alps.
To find a rare bird, I believe, or to see any one of a number of magnificently plumaged birds in the wild becomes a psychedelic experience. A birder doesn't need drugs to get high. The blazing colors of an oriole or a Blackburnian warbler will do the trick nicely.
A flight of snow geese materializing out of a moonlit October sky at dusk will produce an unforgettable high, maybe even an overdose of euphoria.
I vividly remember one September night with a full moon in Columbus, Ohio, when I was a lad. We lived on West Eleventh Avenue across from The Ohio State University campus in a white frame house that had once been the residence of J. H. Schaffner, the noted Ohio botanist.
Impatiently I had been waiting for darkness. Finally, about nine-thirty I went out into the backyard and near an old pear tree stretched out in the grass on my back so that I could get a clear view of the moon. I had a small telescope and an inexpensive pair of binoculars with me. I was 17 years old.
Using first one instrument, then the other, I peered upward at the bright shining disk of the moon. I could see the shadowy outlines of lunar seas and the sharper delineation's of mountains and escarpments.
A neighbor, if they should have observed me, would surely have thought that I was moonstruck-or daft. Doggedly I kept staring upward, pinpoints of bright lunar light reflecting in my eyes. The minutes ticked by and patiently I continued my vigil, as if I were a member of some cult that held the moon in high esteem.
It was about eleven o'clock when my heart skipped a beat. Yes, there it was, the silhouette of a small bird transiting across the face of the moon! Not just any bird. This was a migratory bird. Probably a warbler, a vireo, or a tanager headed for Central or South America. And I was actually watching it, had picked it out of the darkness by catching it in my eye - momentarily - between my telescope and the moon.
During the next hour I saw others. All heading south. Occasionally, I could hear the faint chips and chirps of these voyagers falling out of the night sky. At long last, stiff and sore, damp from the dew on the grass, I went back into the house. Everybody had gone to bed and it was just as well.
If they had asked me what I had been doing and I had told them, they wouldn't have understood. Oh, my mother might have understood the words I would have said; but she wouldn't have understood the real meaning, the almost unbearable exhilaration I had felt at having witnessed such an event.
I made my way to my room. Visions of the moon and tiny birds flying across America dancing in my head as I finally fell asleep.
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